An Outline of Taxonomic Theory

Question: What is theoretical knowledge?

Answer: An intellectual improvisation on the Theme of Being.

Igor Ya. Pavlinov

No scientific discipline can function normally without a more or less developed theoretical background: accordingly, the progress of the former depends, by and large, on the completeness of the latter. Its core is shaped by a theory, which in the most general sense means a conceptual system containing generalized knowledge about the studied object (phenomenon, etc.). It is noteworthy that, although the notion of theory is one of the key and basic ideas in science, its sufficiently clear and uniform definition does not exist [Stepin 2005]; moreover, it probably cannot exist due to the qualitative heterogeneity and dynamic nature of the entire system of scientific knowledge. A uniformly construed “final theory of everything” for the whole of science is an ideal of the classical monistic paradigm, while recognition of its impossibility is an attribute of the non-classical pluralistic paradigm. The latter presumes, however, that any natural science must comply with some general universal provisions and criteria that make its theory scientifically sound. With this, it is implied that particular science branches may and should develop their particular theories taking into account the specifics of their cognitive situations and studied objects (phenomena, etc.).

These two interconnected universal principles are certainly true for the theoretical foundations of biological systematics. There are also several other major conditions to be taken into consideration when developing these foundations. The latter is shaped by the unity of onto-epistemology as part of the cognitive triangle: one does not exist without the other; they are interconnected. This circumstance is reflected by the principle of onto-epistemic correspondence. The entire theoretical construct of systematics is hierarchically organized in a conceptual pyramid: more particular concepts can be defined only within the framework of more general ones. Taxonomic theory (TT) is not a finalized product but a living, evolving conceptual system, with its content changing caused by the dynamics of general philosophical scientific contexts. The vector of its development is directed towards a more complete comprehension of what and how it pretends to generalize; in our case, this is the taxonomic reality (TR). It is a fuzzy construct with a rather solid core and a labile periphery.

Elements of construing theoretical foundations of biological systematics can be found in many works, starting with those of early taxonomists (Jung, Linnaeus, de Candolle, etc.) and ending with the most recent research. In them, fundamental statements are usually formalized as “canons” or “rules,” “axioms” or (more often) “principles,” though without clear delineation of their basic functions. The ideas developed by logicians claimed to be comprehensive [Woodger 1937; Gregg 1954; Jardine 1969; Mahner and Bunge 1997], but they look too formal for biological systematics. Theoretical developments by biologists [Simpson 1961; Sokal and Sneath 1963; Mayr 1969; Lines and Mertens 1970; Lpvtrup 1973; Sneath and Sokal 1973; Wiley 1981; Pavlinov 1990; Mayden and Wiley 1993; Quicke 1993; Schuh 2000; Epshtein 2002, 2003; Rasnitsyn 2002; Wagele 2005] are substantive and therefore more attractive, but they aimed at substantiating particular views of the scope and tasks of systematics and are too fragmentary.

Thus, the current state of the theoretical foundations of systematics is still in its infancy and requires special detailed research: so far it is not so much a theory in a certain strict sense, even “immature” [Zuev 2015], as some set of its fragments. Apparently, the main cause is that the very task of developing a kind of broad biologically sound theory was not previously posed by theoreticians who cared mostly about particular classification approaches (natural systematics, phenetics, cladistics, etc.). So, what is urgently needed now is to develop, first of all, a general understanding of how these foundations should be built to make them adequate for a contemporary understanding of the cognitive situation of systematics considered in general. The state of affairs in mathematics and physics, from which examples of developed theoretical constructions are usually taken [Sneed 1979; Rybnikov 1994; Perminov 2001], shows that the search for possible solutions of this fundamental task promises to be difficult and therefore quite lengthy.

This chapter presents the author’s ideas about one of the possible ways to develop theoretical foundations of systematics in the form of quasi-axiomatics [Pavlinov 201 la, 2018; Pavlinov and Lyubarsky 2011]. It is not deduced formally from a certain ready-to-use high-order conceptual system, but rather is a product of the author’s intuitive inspiration about a desirable structure of such a theory. So, this is by no means a completed product; it is just an attempt to look more closely at some key positions and to outline a possible direction in which rationally and constructively framed theoretical foundations of systematics can be developed. With this, it is designed to develop more clearly the general context in which basic concepts and research programs of systematics will be considered in the subsequent parts of the book.

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